Dubai: Islamic Republic of Iran’s AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 challenge, says head coach Carlos Queiroz, is only just starting.
The three-time champions sealed top spot in Group D following a 0-0 draw with Iraq on Wednesday, edging the West Asians on goal difference after both team finished on seven points.
Team Melli now await their Round of 16 opponents, the best third-placed team from either Group B, E or F, and Queiroz said he has to get his players ready for the business end of the competition.
“From now on, it’s a game which is everything for the winner and nothing to the loser. All the profile of the games have changed, so we can say that the Asian Cup starts for us in the next game,” Queiroz.
“Now we need to rest. After these three games, it’s important to have a good rest, and start to be mentally fresh for the (next) games.”
After having defeated Yemen and Vietnam with relative ease, Iran faced more formidable opponents in Iraq and Queiroz commended the 2007 champions.
“The game was intense, enthusiastic, and it was played in good spirit,” Queiroz said. “There was a lot of excitement on the pitch which was good for both teams, as well as for the fans of Iran and Iraq.
“I think the first half we played good football, we controlled the game and created two clear chances to score, unfortunately we didn’t.”
“In the second half, we changed our strategic approach. We knew that we had to give the initiative to Iraq and counter-attack. But at the end of the day, for the commitment, the efforts and the spirit of the game, I believe the draw was a fair result.
“Today, when it was time for football, we expressed ourselves, created opportunities, we played good football against a very difficult team of Iraq.”
The sentiment was shared by Iraq head coach Srecko Katanec, with the Lions of Mesopotamia set to meet the winners of Group E – either Qatar or Saudi Arabia – in the Round of 16.
“The match was really intense, great fight,” Katanec expressed. “I think the result is honest, because in the first half, Iran – for the first 25 minutes – were better. For the second half, I think we were the better team.”
“I really don’t care who we will play. We have time to prepare for the game. We will see who it is, and we will prepare the team.
“If you want to win, it’s not important who you play. If you want to reach to the end, you need to beat every team.”